Monday, November 28, 2011

Up Against a Door

If my father were still alive, he would be proud of me today.  I managed to fix a household problem by myself without hiring a handy man.  As a result I now know more about bifold doors than most homeowners will ever know.
We have bifold doors separating the main part of the basement from the workroom.  Until the recent “gym” project, the doors stayed open and it was not a problem that the right one was bumping metal-against-metal on the track instead of gliding smoothly.  (The first two pictures are of the repaired door since I didn't think about writing this until it was fixed.)
But just the other day, the metal on top fell to the floor and the particle board at the top of the door had come unglued.  It obviously needed some wood glue and some replacement hardware.  Upon closer examination, I could see that what was missing was the hard round roller piece at the top.
I headed off to the dreaded Home Depot yesterday where I managed to find replacement hardware on my own since the man making keys never seemed to get a break to help me.  But all I found was obviously the wrong size.  I thought perhaps I could pry the round roller thingie off the shorter metal spring-loaded piece and just put it on top of the one that had fallen on the floor.
Yesterday afternoon I carefully applied wood glue and secured the top of the door with masking tape while it dried.  But last night after the door had dried, I realized the new white thing was missing a small lip on the lower edge that kept it from going up into the track.
So today I went to what was once an excellent hardware store, only to find fairly bare shelves and fairly incompetent staff, who referred me to a store that sold appliance parts and had nothing to do with door hardware.
Driving home it occurred to me that I could possibly make a replacement part from the bottom of a spool that once held thread.  I had virtually all sizes from which to choose.
Just as I was going around the workbench to get a coping saw to cut up the spool, I noticed a little white round thing in an indentation at the corner of the workbench.  Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the missing part and it had probably been there for years.  You know that feeling of finding an object on the floor and not knowing what it is, putting it somewhere just in case.
I quickly reassembled the old hardware and it works like a charm!
My Ace friend Merle may be the only one who cares enough to read to the end of this saga.  I’ll bet he would have been able to save me some frustration.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

'Tis the Season for Pumpkin

Here’s a little secret:  I post recipes here so I can find them again.  If you find them too, that’s fine with me.
As we were sitting around talking about what to cook for Thanksgiving, my son mentioned the pumpkin flan he had made last year and I drew a blank, despite the fact that he also mentioned it was our favorite dessert.  
Fortunately his memory is almost perfect and he immediately pulled the New York Times Cookbook off the shelf and opened it up to the recipe.  So of course it was on the menu again this year.
Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan
1-1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups undiluted evaporated milk
1/3 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Melt 1/2 cup of the sugar over low heat until the sugar forms a golden syrup.  Stir constantly to prevent burning.  Pour immediately into a souffle dish or a 9-inch pie plate, turning and rolling pan from side to side to coat with caramel  Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine 3/4 cup of the remaining sugar with the salt and cinnamon.  Add pumpkin and eggs.  Mix well.  Stir in the evaporated milk, the water, and the vanilla.  Mix well and turn into the caramel-coated pan.  Set in a pan filled with 1/2” of water.  Bake for 1-1/4 hours,  or until a knife inserted in the center of the filling comes out clean.  Cool and chill.
To serve, run a spatula around the sides of the pan.  Turn flan out onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges.  Combine the whipped cream with the remaining sugar and the ginger and serve as a topping.
This is a winning dessert worth repeating every year!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


As my daughter was growing up, she actually learned more of my behavior than I ever imagined.  We had a lot of time to observe each other in the kitchen yesterday as we all pitched in to make our belated Thanksgiving dinner.
As I was cleaning up as others cooked, her boyfriend remarked that the can barely set down a glass or a spoon without her washing it.  
Then as we were cleaning up after the feast and I went to work on the stove, her boyfriend said she does the same thing every time they cook.
Thinking back, I am pretty sure I inherited both of these behaviors from my mother, who always did all the cooking herself.
It’s quite a surprise to see yourself in your adult child.  I wonder what else she inherited from me...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Feasting a Day Late

We’re eating our Thanksgiving dinner the day most people are having leftovers.  In an effort to include everyone in the cooking we put it off a day.  So today has been the cooking frenzy that ordinarily takes place on Thanksgiving.
This year has some new challenges imposed by my husband’s gluten free status.  We have tried to accommodate his dietary restrictions for most of the meal.  
Like the pies above.  One gluten-free and dairy-free, the other with regular flour and butter.  Can you tell the difference?  I didn’t think so.
The gluten-free pie is the one that looks the best (on the left).  Its crust is made from almond flour, oat flour, tapioca flour, teff flour, potato starch, sweet rice flour, xanthan gum, guar gum, salt, goat butter, lard, an egg, and ice water.
Both crusts contain leaf lard, supposedly the highest quality of lard, which comes from the fat near the pig’s kidney.  I had always steered clear of lard, but there are many people who swear it makes the best pie crust.
The proof will be in the eating, which should happen in another couple of hours.
We are just five for dinner:  the two of us, our children, and our daughter’s boyfriend.  Jake will also be hanging around hoping for a handout.
The strange thing about this meal is it’s the same amount of work no matter how many people are sitting around the table.  But everyone has shared in the work and we can be flexible about when we eat.
Hope your Thanksgiving meal included good food and lots of family!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mega Yoga

When I woke up today I was very tempted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep instead of going to the 2-hour yoga workshop I had signed up for.  I’ve been feeling like I was on the verge of a cold and my energy level was flagging.
But instead I had a quick breakfast, fed Jake, and headed into DC, not knowing fully what to expect in a very long open-level class.  I watched the studio fill up with people who had never considered going to the “gentle” classes I normally attend.  They were mostly much younger and full of energy.
One of the greatest strengths of a yoga teacher is being able to teach a multi-level class and have everyone feel like it was geared to his or her unique abilities.  That meant that for today’s classes, many poses had options.  There were often 3 or 4 different possibilities for a pose.
I had fun just looking around.  As most people flipped up into their perfect handstands, I did my shoulder stand, feeling happy that I could still manage to get myself into it.  I watched some pretty awesome poses over the course of those 2 hours.
After about an hour, down dog started to seem like a resting pose.  With lots of modifications, I managed to get through the two-hour class that systematically worked most every part of our bodies.  I settled into shavasana with a strong feeling of contentment and a new level of appreciation for my body.
I walked out of this gratitude workshop with the sudden realization that my cold symptoms had totally disappeared.  I was now ready to enjoy family and feasting over the next few days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkish Torture

In any sort of physical training program, there is always something just out of your reach to which you are aspiring.  But how far out of your reach?
Last week my physical therapist decided to have me do a Turkish getup, figuring it would fire up my gluts and abs and virtually every part of my body.  From the get-go, I could see that this maneuver was way harder than anything else I had ever attempted.  By the end of the session, I had managed to do one small piece of it and I was totally exhausted and a little discouraged.  I’m sure my attitude did not seem overly positive.
We had an email conversation afterwards about this and I hoped it would be put off for a while until the necessary body parts could be strengthened through exercises I could more easily do.  But that didn’t seem to happen.
Instead I showed up today for my hour with my trainer (who works for the PT) and he once again attempted to convince my body it could do the Turkish getup.  Despite his words of encouragement, it still seemed pretty hopeless.
I understand that to progress we need to be challenged.  But my question is how challenged should that be?  It seems like it might be better to move through a series of progressively harder exercises which would give me some positive feedback along the way if I could actually do them.
I consider that I usually have a fairly optimistic attitude toward new things, but every now and then I am reminded just how far I still have to go.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Search of a Discounted Yoda

Last year when we started the book club at the homeless shelter, I knew we would have to pay for all the books because we have no corporate sponsor.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal for 6 kids.  But 6 kids once a month adds up.
I’m usually able to go online and buy used books for as little as 1 cent with $3.99 for shipping.  
But occasionally we choose a popular book that isn’t available at such a good price.  And so it is with “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” by Tom Angleberger.  It was recommended by a children’s librarian at the Arlington County Public Library.  One look at the book told me it was the sort of book that might grab our reluctant readers.
The best I could do anywhere was $7.99 with free shipping, but that adds up to $48.  So we decided to go in search of a greater discount.  I called Abrams, the publisher in NYC, and left a message.  My husband wrote an email to Amazon, where we buy lots of stuff.  And I sent an email to the author, who happens to be a newspaper reporter in Roanoke.
Several days had passed and I was getting ready to pay the $48, when I got a message from the author today:
Let me see if I can wrangle some copies for you…
One way or the other Origami Yoda will be our January book.  We will spend some time talking about the book and eating healthier snacks than the kids are used to eating.  And then we will attempt to make our own origami yodas using this or one of the other many utube videos out there.
I’m so determined to see these kids take off as young readers.  Their worlds know no limits if they cast their lot with books!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Zebra Question

At Friday night services we are treated to a reading by the bar/bat mitzvah boy or girl.  Tonight’s reading was particularly enjoyable and thought-provoking:
Zebra Question by Shel Silverstein
I asked the Zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy day?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I'll never ask a zebra
About stripes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yogic Wisdom

My young yoga teacher is wise beyond her years.  Yesterday afternoon she started our class by reminding us that we have everything we need and we need everything we have.  And by remembering this we open to grace, one of the 5 principles of Anusara yoga.
I’m intrigued by this concept.  Obviously this is not about material possessions, since I certainly don’t have the underwear I’m going to need to buy in 10 years and I don’t have the food I’m going to eat tomorrow.  But rather it must be about what’s in our heads and hearts and bodies.
It asks us to look inside and take inventory to see how best to use what’s there.  We may find the baggage from a relationship gone awry, but that too contributed to who we are.  We may find the scars from from an accident, but they remind us that the body can heal.  We may find a surplus of love that has never been spoken.  We may find untapped strength.  Who knows?
Whatever we find will be as unique to us as our fingerprints are.  It is our raw material to inform how we live right now.  
I associate opening to grace with the asanas of my yoga practice.  When in fact, it can be extended to embracing life off the mat as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Shoes and Free Shipping

I recently tried on these shoes at The Walking Company and really liked them.  But before buying them at $115, I decided to look online and sure enough I found them for $76 with free shipping.  
When the shoes arrived 2 days later, I realized the Chinese quality control on shoes may not be so good because the very same 9-1/2 M was way too tight.  Thinking perhaps I had actually tried on a 9-1/2 W, I ordered a second pair at the same $76 with free shipping, which arrived the next day.  That pair slipped right off my feet.  
So I bit the bullet and bought the shoes that fit, leaving me with 2 pairs of shoes to return.  That’s when I realized return shipping wasn’t covered.  I boxed them up and prepared to go to the USPS, knowing the shipping would probably be $20 or more.
Then I had the idea of calling Amazon to find out if there was a cheaper way to return them.  Miraculously I talked to a guy in India who figured out how to get prepaid shipping for both pairs of shoes.
Which brings me to my real question du jour about all the free shipping that is out there luring us to make purchases online.  I often get the item the next day or the day after that and pay nothing for the many people responsible for the delivery to my door.  
The free shipping seems to apply to items large and small.  Last week we bought a refurbished Kitchenaid stand mixer online weighing at least 30 pounds.  Free shipping.  Yesterday I bought a jar of shoe polish online for $2.50.  Free shipping.  Both items already had rock-bottom prices, leaving me to wonder how these companies are actually paying for shipping.
All I know is at the cost of shipping these days, I mostly buy items which advertise free shipping. 
How about you?  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Massaged to a Spasm

Last week I had a very frightening experience.   I found myself buck naked on a massage table after a 90-minute session virtually unable to get up because my back was in spasm.  
I have been seeing my excellent massage therapist every 3 weeks for almost 2 years.  He does a very rigorous combination of therapy that is somewhat of a blend of PT and Thai massage.  I am stretched in virtually every direction with a lot of emphasis on my lower back and hips.  However, last week’s massage must have been a little more than my back could take.  
The massage studio is actually in the efficiency condo where my bodyworker lives.  He finishes up the session and then disappears into the bathroom while I get dressed.  By the time he called out to find out if I was dressed, I had managed to get myself off the table and with difficulty to get mostly dressed.  I told him I had had difficulty getting up but didn’t go into the details.
I was still in somewhat of a state of panic as I walked to the car, wondering if I had done irreparable damage to my back in an activity that was supposed to be therapeutic.  I wondered if I should continue to see him.  I wondered if I should continue to receive massage from anyone.  But mainly I wondered if and when my back would stop hurting.
I popped an Aleve and tried to avoid bending over for the rest of the day.  I sat carefully and got up slowly.  And eventually my symptoms began to subside.  While previous back problems have taken days to resolve, I was pretty much back to normal in about 24 hours.
I have had a long email dialog with my massage therapist and my physical therapist.  He identified my left SI joint as the site of the problem.  We have agreed that he should back way off on the intensity and limit my next session to 60 minutes.  Perhaps we can gradually add back in some of the things he usually does.  But whatever we do, I have to make sure my back is not negatively affected.
I continue to learn the strengths and limitations of my body.  And I must pay full attention to both.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Killing Me Softly with... Shampoo?

I am one of those people who wander aimlessly from shampoo to shampoo, always searching for the perfect blend that leaves my hair lustrous and manageable.  But what I didn’t realize was the reason I may not have liked quite a few of those products was they contained toxins.
I have long had problems with my hair feeling lifeless and my scalp itchy after a shampoo.  I just attributed it to the fact that I have always had somewhat dry skin.  For this reason I seldom wash my hair more than twice a week.
Last week while I was wasting time waiting for my knives to be sharpened, I walked into a chic hair salon in Tysons Galleria and bought Aveda shampoo and conditioner recommended by a stylist.  The bottles were attractive and it smelled nice enough to justify the cost.
But after washing my hair, I could scarcely get a comb through it and it felt robbed of all nutrients.  Not such a good showing for salon hair products.
A few days later while shopping at MOM’s Organic Market, I saw an array of natural products and decided to cast my luck with Desert Essence Green Apple and Ginger shampoo and conditioner.
Today my hair feels totally different and it looks 1000 times better as well.  Who ever heard of Desert Essence anything?  I’m beginning to think brands mean nothing when it comes to shampoo.  It’s all about ingredients.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A New Take on Bread

Today I entered the world of gluten-free baking.  Very unfamiliar but not a total failure.
My goal was to make bread that was not hard and flat as a rock, that didn’t fall apart when I took it out of the pan, and that tasted at least remotely like bread.
I started with Alison’s Gluten Free Bread recipe and made a few modifications.  First of all I really don’t like those little bullet shaped loaves that come out of a bread machine, so my bread was going to be baked in loaf pans.  I substituted goat’s milk for cow’s milk, since my husband is on a dairy free diet as well.
As you can see, the loaves came out just fine.  I was almost afraid to bite into a slice because I am so particular about bread.  But surprisingly it tasted quite good and had a nice, although different from gluten bread, texture.  It reminded me a lot of brioche.
Here’s the resulting recipe:
Gluten Free Bread
1 egg + 2 egg whites
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups skim goat’s milk
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon zanthan gum
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/4 millet flour
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1 tablespoon dry yeast
Egg wash (one egg with a small amount of water)
Seed mixture (flax, poppy, sesame)
Heat goat’s milk to around 112 degrees F.  Add oil, honey, and yeast.  While yeast proofs, measure out dry ingredients and lightly beat eggs.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a spoon for 50 strokes or until there are no more lumps of anything.  Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm space for about an hour.  (I put a heated skillet in my electric oven.)  
Stir to deflate dough.  Spoon into one large or two medium greased bread pans.  Brush the tops with the egg wash and liberally sprinkle with seeds.  Cover the pans with the cloth and place them place them back in the oven to rise for another hour.
Remove pans and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes.  Gently remove the loaves from the pans, running a knife around the outside to loosen the bread.
Slice and either eat or freeze in sandwich bags.

Friday, November 04, 2011


Someone who is really smart recently mentioned the trend is to get rid of jobs these days instead of creating them.  In many fields work that had always been done by humans is being given to robots.  He mentioned the legal and medical fields as examples.

But today I encountered yet another example of robotics in action while I waited at Tysons Corner Galleria for my knives to be sharpened at Sur la Table.  As I ate my take-out crabcake from Legal Seafood, I was treated to a concert by this white Boston piano with no one playing it.

Player pianos have actually been around for many years.  But it used to be that upscale shopping centers like this one employed a human to entertain their shoppers.

Don't get me wrong, the piano played Moonlight Sonata and many other favorites perfectly, but almost a little too perfectly.  And there was never the chance of making eye contact with the pianist during a long ritard.

How sad that the job of a starving musician has now been delegated to a mechanized piano that will play 24 hours a day if asked to without asking for a penny.  I wish they would think of a better way to economize.

Cooking Challenge

I feel like I am on one of those cooking challenge shows and all of a sudden somebody took away half of my favorite ingredients.  My husband saw the nutritionist (for the first time) yesterday and after hearing his various symptoms, she stripped down his diet to bare bones.  
For at least the next month, he is supposed to be dairy-free, gluten-free, and low-acid.  This translates into no cows milk, no butter, no wheat, no Balsamic vinegar, no ginger, no curry, and many other no-no’s.
Last night I found myself making two versions of stuffed peppers -- mine with the curry, tomato paste, and hot peppers and his without those things.  It means we now have to keep track of his and my leftovers.  How complicated!
He is allowed to have goat products.  So I made goat milk yogurt yesterday.  The good news is he can eat goat cheese, instead of avoiding all cheese as he has been doing for lactose-intolerance.
I have found recipes for gluten-free bread, gluten-free cake, gluten-free turkey stuffing.  There are obviously a lot of people out there who are trying this alternate diet.
But it does call for a lot of extra planning and the purchase of ingredients like xanthan gum (helps to bind ingredients like gluten does) that I had never even heard of.
I must say my husband is embracing this with the determination to follow the new diet 100%.  He’s making god use of the Vitamix to make things like cucumber juice and pear-parsley drinks.  For the next month, I can guarantee he won’t cheat even once.
Hopefully some of those missing ingredients will be introduced back in over time, but for now we will simply adapt to keep him honest and hopefully more healthy.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


You may recall after the High Holy Days, I voiced my frustration at not knowing what I was praying during all those hours of services.  I put out a message to our current rabbis and to our former rabbi asking for their help.
Today my husband and I had our first lesson with Toby, our rabbi from 2 years ago and one of the best teachers I have ever encountered.
On the ride into town, I verbalized some of my thoughts about embarking on this project to better understand.  I wondered if perhaps I might be disappointed when I finally figure out what it is I have been praying.  I wondered if when I finally understand the Hebrew, I will no longer think about its meaning, much as I said the Pledge of Allegiance day after day in school with not a thought to its meaning or said The Lord’s Prayer ever Sunday without pondering phrases like “hallowed be Thy name”.  I wondered if my current ignorance of the meaning actually allowed me to evolve my own personal meaning without being forced to comply with what the words actually mean.  I wondered if Israelis (who speak Hebrew and) who pray those prayers every day or every week pay much attention to their meaning.  So many things to think about.
Our classes with Toby are starting at the very beginning of our weekly worship service.  We will go prayer by prayer, talking about historical context, the words and their meanings, and how those same words show up in other places.  
It’s a fascinating process.  I have immediately reaffirmed how well qualified Toby is to teach this subject and how well she has already figured out how to best impart this knowledge to us.  
On the way home after having my head packed with Hebrew words, I remarked about how lucky we were to have the time to do this.  Many people our age are still slaving away at full-time jobs.  Instead I am fortunate enough to study piano, music theory, and now Hebrew.  Hopefully my brain is up to the task of expanding just a little further as I ask it to grasp some new bits of knowledge and make sense of them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Strings and Things

I met up with an old friend tonight at the Kennedy Center.  We worked together for years and he does a good job of keeping in touch.
The Orion String Quartet were playing at the Terrace Theater, a smaller venue at the KC.  That included 2 violins, a viola, and a cello.  It was a fairly classical program -- Bach, Brahms, and Schubert -- with a dose of Webern (1883 - 1945) thrown in.
What was most interesting about their performance was we got to see a very human side of serious performers playing serious music.  They started the program with an impromptu round of “happy birthday” for Marta Casals Istomin, a long-time benefactor of the Kennedy Center.
Midway through the first movement of the Schubert Quartet, they stopped abruptly when one of the strings on the viola broke.  The violist left the stage for about 5 minutes to replace his string.
At the beginning of the third movement, the first violinist started the fourth movement and they had to start over after an embarrassing explanation.
All of these things made them seem like just 4 regular guys who love to play music together but sometimes have to roll with the punches.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, especially the Schubert.  I ran into another friend on the way out who pronounced it the worst chamber music she had ever heard.  Obviously not everyone felt the way I did.